Thursday, June 5, 2014

Young Fundamentalism -- Evangelism in Contemporary Culture

The other day, a good friend who is part of an older generation of fundamental preachers asked this question, "Does anyone have any new ideas for evangelism that will impact the current generation?" As I thought about his question, I realized that no new "idea" or "program" was going to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish. For those of my generation, there is a growing frustration with the idea that if we just plug a "modern" idea or two into our current ministry models that they will be effective in reaching the lost of contemporary society. This is not the case.

Unfortunately, society took a dramatic turn while much of fundamentalism was sleeping, soundly still encased in a mindset that stemmed from the success of the evangelistic methods of the last half of the twentieth century. Now, fundamentalist leaders are scrambling trying to find new plug and play ideas that will impact their city without changing the operating system of their ministry, their understanding, and philosophy. It really is like trying to figure out where the Ipod plugs into your Commodore 64 (remember those?). Humbly, the obvious truth is that it is a faulty philosophy that has put fundamentalism in a place where it can no longer effectively evangelize. It is not a new idea that is needed but rather a Biblical rethink of how and why we do things. So what then does evangelism look like in contemporary culture?

First: Realize that no one wants your church, and that is okay! 

God never told the lost man to go to the church building to listen to the paid professional tell him how to get to Heaven. God told the saved fellow in the pew to go to the lost man on his turf and tell him about Jesus. God didn't send a flyer in the mail to get us all to come to Heaven to tell us why Heaven was so great, and why we should stay. He sent Jesus to where we lived and into our lives. We need to follow the example of Jesus and be a going church more than an inviting church.

Church advertising over the past years has been, "Come to our church! It is better than the one down the street!" Now, you will still get a few church hoppers (we politely call them transfers) from advertising such as this, but they will be fewer still as society as a whole moves away from going to church. Contemporary evangelism has to put the emphasis back where it should have been all along; on Jesus and His gospel. The truth is that the lost man really doesn't care about how wonderful your church is (at best, he sees it as a community social/service club) or how great you think your pastor is.

The emphasis has to be on the gospel not the church. The gospel has to be communicated up front instead of being loaded at the back of the long process of advertising, personal invitation to attend, evangelistic preaching service, and public invitation to respond to the gospel.

You see, this current model is based on people a) wanting (or at least willing) to go to church with you and b) accepting your church before they hear and respond to the gospel. With society moving away from church attendance and having a highly cynical mindset toward church and clergy, this approach will not work well moving forward.

Second: Realize that your church events aren't attractive to contemporary individuals, and that is okay!

The past sixty years of fundamentalism have built up much expectation around events. "If you build it, they will come," seems to have become the rationale for all sorts of gimmicks of promotion. But because the lost man has no desire for (and no longer has a cultural reason for) church, he also does not care about your church's anniversary, picnic, missions conference, special meetings, revival, etc... He sees this all as a part of your "religious club" that's "good for you" but not for him.

So, what does attract the lost man to the gospel (the GOOD news) in this contemporary culture? Simply put, good news attracts them! People are tired of bad news and the feeling of being manipulated. They want good news.

Love is good news! John 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Simply put, love is attractive. Truly caring about each other and meeting each other's needs is attractive. In this overly connected society what people are really looking for is genuine loving community. When this is displayed, it opens up doors to talk about Jesus.

Doing good for others is good news! Titus 2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

God instituted good works in the first century (which ours is resembling more and more) as a key to open up hearts to the gospel, the good news of Jesus. As congregations once again get serious about meeting physical, mental, and emotional needs (felt needs), opportunities will open up to approach and deal with spiritual / eternal needs.

Third: Realize that church attendance is not the goal of the gospel, and that is okay!

God did not save people to go to church. He saved them to reconcile them unto Himself. (Colossians 1:20) Now, obviously part of being an obedient Christian is membership, attendance, and participation in a local church.

The modern problem is that money comes from those who actually show up to the services and give at offering time. Most churches with dwindling congregations or large churches with big buildings and bigger bills are unfortunately motivated by this. Therefore, much is made of church attendance. The apostle told us not to quit "assembling" - not to quit meeting as the people of God. (Hebrews 10:25) This, of course did not mean, "be there every time something is going on." It meant just what it said; don't quit gathering. And so, we meet on the Lord's day and will not quit, and properly so.

However, beyond the example of first-century Christians meeting on Sunday (we follow that example), God gives us latitude in choosing a schedule that works for the people within our congregations and our evangelism efforts. In fundamentalism, the traditional church schedule has become a god and a test of fellowship between churches. Unfortunately, no one has taken time to step back and think, "What if we trained our folks to go into the community with the gospel and then freed up their time from the church building to do just that?" In every book club, service organization, volunteer group, and baseball team across your town, there are lost people that need a missionary in their midst. Unfortunately, the schedules that most fundamental churches keep precludes their folks from being community missionaries and locks them into a sub-culture where they interact only with the people at work and Christians at church.

Fourth: Realize that no lost person cares about intramural squabbles between churches, and that is good!

So many are still advertising why their church is better than the one down the road. This focuses on our differences instead of the commonality of Jesus. No lost person in their right mind wants to hear about Bible versions, music, personal dress standards, etc... Disagreement with other churches ought not be the front door into our church. Jesus did not send us to tell others about these things, He sent us to tell them about His gospel. Yes, we have differences with the church down the road, and yes in some cases it is proper to separate over those differences, but making a big deal about those differences in evangelism draws attention away from the real big thing: Jesus. If we spend time explaining (or worse advertising or arguing) why we are better, we take time and attention away from the gospel. We make converts to ourselves and our perspectives/convictions but not to Jesus.

Fifth: Realize that the lost man loves his family more than he loves your church, and that is good!

Over and over in the Bible we find people getting saved then bringing their families to Christ. The difficulty in our individualistic society is that the church has backed away from treating people as part of a family unit and have tried to assimilate them (as individuals) into the church as a sort of substitute family. (Now, having said this, I realize that there are those without families who need this kind of belonging and support.) In the field of evangelism if we treat individuals as separate from their families, we will win individuals but not families.

For example, a fellow gets saved. We tell him, "Quit going to the places you used to go. Quit hanging out with sinners. Start coming to every activity/event at the church." All relatively good advice for him, but disastrous advice if we are trying to reach his family with the gospel. Why? His family will naturally come to resent the church for taking him away from family time and functions. This is where accusations of "cult" start to come into the family's conversation. Long before a family comes to love a church congregation, the congregation must go out of their way to love a family. We cannot see the lost family as a competitor for the love, time, and attention of a new convert. If we do, we will lose. We must equip, encourage, and release the convert to be a missionary in his family. That means that there will be times when we will miss him at a service or activity. That's okay. Love shown to the family will reinforce in their minds that they have not lost their loved one to "that church" and this, over time, will be a benefit in reaching them with the gospel.

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